At 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, an important flight touched down at the South Terminal at YVR, bringing with it fishermen and their haul: large salmon and precious donations for the Canucks Autism Network.
Entering its sixth year, the Fishing For Kids fundraiser sees the West Coast Fishing Club fly participants and sponsors to the Langara lodge in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The proceeds benefit the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) as well as BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. Katy Harandi, interim executive director (and board member chair) of CAN, spoke about the trip and its participants. “It’s amazing that 42 fishermen can get together for this cause, and generate so much money. It shows how serious they are about helping families in need, trying to cope with this challenging condition.”
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis recounted events from the Langara lodge. “It was a really good time with a fun group of guys, the whole time was fun fishing, but the lodge part afterwards, a lot of comedy, senator Larry Campbell was up there emceeing the event and he’s a pretty humorous guy. Certainly a touching moment too when Alex Bell (father of Griffon Bell, CAN champion child) spoke about some of their dealings with autism and what this tournament has meant to them, it was a real special evening. I wasn’t part of the big fish club, but I hope to come back next year and chase that big one.”
Sporting the home blue and green Canucks jersey with “Bell” and the number 11 adorning the back were Alex and his son Griffon. Though he doesn’t speak, Griffon would communicate in his own way, taking people by the hand for a short walk, or saying ‘thank you’ with a small kiss on the cheek. Alex was clearly very thankful for the Network’s assistance. “It was really nice to be up there and not feel self-conscious whatsoever. Usually when I take Griff out somewhere, because of some of his behaviours, you can feel a little self-conscious. Everybody up there was very understanding. One of Griffon’s traits is that he likes to grab people by the hand and take them for a walk. So it was a running joke up at the lodge – Have you been for a Griff tour yet? Everybody was exceptionally friendly, and obviously very generous, it was fantastic. He really likes boating, he loved being out on the water.”
Lindsay Moore, also with CAN, was genuinely excited to talk about the importance of the Network. “It’s all about bringing awareness to what autism is, and how many people are truly affected by it in our province. As we know, prevalence is growing almost yearly, and the reason why is still unknown. We need to get understanding and awareness out throughout the community and the country. A huge smile lit up her face as she concluded. “All the people involved, they’re so dedicated. To them, it’s not really work, it’s something they want to do, they’re driven to stay there late, to work together, getting to know the families.”
While enjoying some of the scrumptious gourmet sandwiches provided by Hawksworth Restaurant, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis shared a few thoughts on the event. “It was something special. It was an unbelievable place to go, and we raised a lot of money for a good cause. Catching big fish is always a highlight. There were a lot of funny moments and great people, people that really stepped up to raise a lot of money.” When asked if he caught some big fish, he deferred the spotlight to (assistant general manager) Laurence Gilman. “You should talk to Laurence Gilman, he had a pretty good tournament. He finished in seventh or eighth place, he caught his first salmon, he did really well.”
As for the fruits of the sea, Ian Smith was awarded the tournament trophy with the largest catch, a 38.76lb Chinook caught on the first day of the contest that netted him a grand prize of $200,000. In keeping with the culture of the event, Smith donated the entire winnings back to the pool, shared between BC Children's Hospital Foundation and Canucks Autism Network.
West Coast Fishing Club president Brian Grange called upon ex-Canuck, Willie Mitchell, to hand the trophy to Smith. Mitchell, whose name is engraved on the trophy for largest catch in 2010, drew a lot of laughter and jeers as he proclaimed, “This is what the Los Angeles Kings will be doing later this year” as he hoisted the cup and bequeathed it to Smith.
Ah, Big Willy, ever the jester.
Next, Grange called upon CAN founder and Canucks owner, Paolo Aquilini, to present the big catch of the day: a cheque for $826,000. “We’re pretty surprised at the speed of the growth of the organization,” the charismatic Aquilini began. “It’s beyond our expectations and we’re really excited about that. So many people have gotten behind it so quickly, the organization itself has developed a good structure, to have a base to grow from. We just continue to look forward to all the things ahead that Canucks Autism Network will do in helping children with autism and their families in British Columbia.”
Try as I might, I couldn’t get Mr. Aquilini to divulge any of the really humorous moments from the tournament. With an infectious laugh, he countered: “You know what, some of them I think people want to keep private, so I’ve got to be careful, right? It was a lot of laughs, a lot of good times, a lot of camaraderie, people building good relationships. Look at all these staff here, all of the people giving money, I mean, $826,000, it’s amazing.”
For more than 4600 youths and their families in BC dealing with the challenges of autism, Canucks Autism Network truly is amazing.
Story by Larenzo Jensen, friend of Canucks.com.